Virginia Zitko turned 83 years old, make that young, this past summer, but in no way has that slowed her down. Nor has the surgery she endured to have her shoulder replaced in early October, or the broken thumb she suffered back in August. Quite the contrary for this amazing octogenarian who moved into Romeoville’s Grand Haven community in December of 2011.
Virginia uses her skill at creating hand-sewn quilts to provide comfort and relief to hundreds of children and teenagers who have been diagnosed with cancer. The young cancer patients are supported and comforted by the Pediatric Oncology Treasure Chest Foundation (POTCF), an Orland Park-based non-profit organization whose mission is to provide them with a toy or gift card after every painful procedure. The Foundation currently operates programs in 45 hospitals spread across 16 states nationwide, making toys and gift cards available in treasure chests to more than 8,600 children and teens each month.
Amazingly, Virginia constructs her quilts entirely by hand, without benefit of an electric sewing machine. She begins by laying out several rows of swatches side by side until she arrives at the perfect color and pattern combination. Her beautiful and unique quilts are ultimately delivered to the Foundation’s treasure chests where they are immediately appreciated by children and teens enduring painful medical treatments. “I use both fleece and flannel to make sure the quilts are soft and fluffy and nice to cuddle up in,” says Virginia. “I can’t cure the kids of cancer, but I can keep them comfortable and warm.”
Virginia first learned of the Treasure Chest Foundation in the late 1990’s when her daughter-in-law Darlene became a Foundation Board member. “I knew the Treasure Chest Foundation was a wonderful cause, so I wanted to make Darlene look good by helping them in their mission,” recalls Virginia, whose talents for quilt making have allowed her to do just that.
Defying normal expectations for someone her age, Virginia has a typically humble yet rational explanation for her seemingly boundless energy. “I’m not getting old,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m just growing up. There’s still a lot to do.”
And one of the more pressing items on Virginia’s to-do list involves making blankets featuring the logos and colors of Chicago’s major professional sports teams which will be auctioned off to attendees at the Foundation’s upcoming annual fundraiser. Treasure Chest Foundation CEO and Founder Colleen Kisel knows that with Virginia’s expertise, the blankets will be hugely popular and their quality will be top notch. “Virginia has been one of our humble heroes as a donor for years,” says a grateful Colleen. “I can’t wait to see the impact her blankets will have for our fundraiser and the cancer patients we serve.”
Thanks to her caring generosity and incredible talent, Virginia Zitko is a true hero to the Treasure Chest Foundation and hundreds of childhood cancer patients who benefit from her skill and compassion.
The POTCF is a unique organization whose services impact thousands of young cancer patients each month. Nowhere else in the nation does such a program exist. Colleen Kisel founded the organization in 1996 after her then seven-year-old son Martin had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1993. Ms. Kisel discovered that giving her son a toy after each procedure provided a calming distraction from his pain, noting that when children are diagnosed with cancer their world soon becomes filled with doctors, nurses, chemotherapy drugs, surgeries and seemingly endless painful procedures. Martin celebrated his 20th anniversary of remission from the disease earlier this year.
If you would like further information about the Treasure Chest Foundation, please contact Colleen Kisel at 708-687-TOYS (8697) or visit the Foundation’s web site at www.treasurechest.org.